Working in a Japanese Company: Part 7 – 5 Mistakes to Avoid Working in a Japanese Company

Adapting to a completely different work culture in another country can be a huge learning curve. I live in Japan and have been working here for almost 5 years at a regular office job as an “OL”, or an “office lady” the term for a woman working in an office here in Japan. Throughout my experience working here I have a few things I have learned to avoid doing while working in a Japanese office, so here are 5 things that you should avoid doing while working in a Japanese company.

Being Late

Being late is a HUGE faux pas in Japan, especially in the workplace. Being “fashionably late” is not a concept here (unless you are the big boss) and in fact, you should be 5-10 minutes early to anything to be prepared. This is the same for when you come into work to begin the workday; I always make sure I am about 10 minutes early to work. My first job actually required me to be to work about 20 minutes early to do radio exercises with everyone and be prepared to start work on time.

Not knowing and practicing “Ho Ren So”

“Spinach??” you might think, but this is a business concept in Japan that stands for “Houkoku, Renraku, Soudan”, which translates to “Report, Inform, and Consult”. This is the basic process on how you interact with your boss/ superior about your tasks in your job that a lot of companies in Japan swear by. Report means to report what you are doing, Inform means to inform all parties involved of the information/ decision from the boss and Consult means to get advice from your boss about your tasks if you are having trouble with something or the boss gives his input into what you are doing. Coming from a western background this concept can seem like you are being babysat by your boss and you cant make your own decisions, but it’s important to know and follow in order to interact with your boss properly in Japan. Not all companies are like this and there are different levels of this depending on how your company is set up, but this is a generally good concept to know so you can understand how these companies operate. Read this article here for more information on this concept!

Not Helping To Clean the Office

Surprise! The workers in the office clean the office, not a janitorial team. You see this often when talking about Japan with the school system, but it actually permeates into the workplace too. Of course, if you are in a huge corporation in a huge building then there might not be cleaning duties, but at a small-medium size company in its own building, you will most likely be required to do some type of cleaning in the office, especially women. More traditional companies will only make the woman rotate cleaning duties, but in more modern companies everyone helps out with the tasks such as taking the trash out, vacuuming, and tidying the break room/ kitchen area etc. So don’t try to wiggle your way out of this! Even try to be the first one to speak up about cleaning duties when you first start at the company as sometimes your Japanese co-workers might not want to bother you as a foreigner. They will really appreciate you helping out!

Not Taking Notes

In my first company in Japan I was CONSTANTLY told to take notes. Now, in school I was the type to not take that many notes and still somehow pass the classes well, so I fought tooth and nail against this but after a while I realized that the co-workers in my first company were in fact correct that I needed to take notes. I ALWAYS forget small things that my boss tells me off handedly to do and having a notebook with me at all times when I talk to him has been a life saver to remember them. On top of this, if you don’t have a notebook and a pen in a meeting it is seen as rude and you are not engaging and absorbing the information presented in the meeting.

Forgetting Proper Greetings

“Aisatsu” or greetings in Japan are essential in all-around in daily life, not just business, so if you do not say the proper greetings throughout the day it can be seen as rude to your co-workers. In the morning when you come into the office you always say “Ohayougozaimasu”, which is “Good morning”, and before you leave for the day you say “osakini shitsureshimasu”, which is a polite way of saying “Excuse me, I’m leaving before you” in combination with “Otsukaresamadesu”, 「お疲れ様です」or “Thank you for the hard work” a phrase that is used in the workplace A LOT. If there is one greeting/ phrase that you NEED to know in a Japanese company it is “Otsukaresamadesu”. It is not only used when you leave for the day but when you greet a co-worker throughout the day or on the phone. For example, when your boss or co-worker calls you on the phone you pick up with Otsukaresamadesu if you know it’s them or after you know who is calling, when you pass a co-worker in the hallway or in the breakroom you say it and when you enter into another part of your office you say it to them as well. You do NOT say it to someone outside of your company, as there is another phrase that you say to a customer or someone outside your company you interact with for work.

What did you think? Do these differ from your country and which ones do you find the strangest? Let me know in the comments below!

Go to Part 6 | Go to Part 8 (Coming soon!)

How to Get a Non-English Teaching Job in Japan Through Higher Education

When talking about landing a non-English teaching job in Japan, there are many different options, like Japanese language school or a  working holiday, but the option that I chose to come to Japan was higher education. I wanted to talk about this route that not many people seem to address  much when talking about moving and working in Japan.  Since I wanted a long term solution to living in Japan, I decided that investing in higher education was the best route for me.  Here is a bit of my story:

DISCLAIMER before I get started: I am NOT an expert in Japanese visas or in the process of higher education in Japan but I do have my own experience going through these things so I am sharing my story in the hopes it will help someone!

I graduated from University in the United States in 2012 and went straight to get my MBA in Japan at a program that was in all in English just 5 months after graduation in the US. The program I chose was Doshisha University’s Global MBA program in Kyoto, but there are lots of other schools in Tokyo and in Japan in general that offer Master’s degree programs that are not just business. I chose business because that was my major in undergrad and I had alway knew I would get my MBA at some point, but If you don’t have a university degree yet, never fear! As an alternative, you can apply to go to regular University in Japan on a full program in English like Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto or Sophia University in Tokyo.

Important to note: Even though I say the programs are in English, in this route it is essential to learn Japanese fluently. Even though some companies are becoming more international and letting people work in English, its still an exception to the normal, so you must be able to work in Japanese in the Japanese way of working. I took my MBA in English because I only had conversational Japanese at the time, so I applied to the English program in order to get to Japan to practice Japanese and immerse myself. I even took Japanese classes as well and made the effort to study Japanese as much as I could while I was there. By the time job hunting came around, I could interview in Japanese and was able to get a job that was mostly in Japanese, where my level went from intermediate-conversational to Basic Business Japanese through immersion after 1 year of working. Now after almost 5 years of working in Japan in mostly Japanese,  my level is in-between N2 and N1 on the JLPT.

Now, why is a degree from a Japanese University beneficial?

#1,  Japan Immigration weighs a degree from a Japanese University higher than a degree from a foreign university when deciding your visa for working later on, so its the “gift to yourself that keeps on giving” so to speak.  If you go to graduate school in Japan for your masters degree, this works even more in your favor because Japan has been giving more priority to highly skilled workers in Japan, which having a masters degree counts as being “highly skilled”. Of course a Master’s degree from a non-Japanese university is still considered highly skilled, but it weighs even higher if its from a Japanese university. Plus, you will get more connections in order to get a Job which leads to #2, which is networking.

#2 If you get your higher education in Japan, you will be able to network around while you are going to school and learn the ropes of job hunting, as well as the name of your school will give you a boost for jobs. Whenever I tell anyone I went to Doshisha, they immediately say “oh you must be so smart!”, even if I follow up with “oh, the program was in English though”. Names DO matter, so be sure to choose your school wisely! Also, the school will have a career development office that can help you, but be aware that they are still very traditional and will mostly operate on the standard Japanese job hunting schedule. Though this is the case, you can still get valuable information on how to act in an interview, how to set up your resume, etc.

TIP:  I recommend during the job hunting process that you contact recruitment agencies while you are job hunting and get advice from them and have them connect you to jobs in Japan. I actually worked together with a recruitment agency in Tokyo that got me a few interviews for jobs that were looking for foreigners, one in Nagoya and one in Kobe.  Also, go to Job fairs whenever you can and dish out the money to go to Tokyo to go to the big international job fairs there. You can speak directly with hiring managers and get interviews right on the spot. This might not lead to jobs right away, as you have to play a “long game” so to speak, but through these you will get valuable interview experience and practice interviewing in Japanese as well and see what companies are looking for out there.

Now lets talk about some Cons:

#1 This route costs money and you cannot work full time while you are going to school to support yourself, because you must be on a student visa. My tuition for an entire course (without scholarships) was 1M yen, and that did not cover living expenses which was about 150,000  yen a month in Kyoto for 2 years. (Expenses can be less than this based on the type of accommodation that you decide to live in) Part time work is okay up to 20 hours a week with special permission on your student Visa from immigration. With that being said, there  ARE scholarships for international students so its not impossible, but it still is an investment.

#2 This route takes 2-4 years until actually landing a job in Japan. You might be able to shorten this if you take on more course work or get an internship with a company or begin working while working on your graduation thesis etc., but more than likely your main job will be studying for this time, so it is a pretty long time-commitment. If you are looking for a short term solution to come to Japan ASAP,  Japanese Language school or a working Holiday visa is probably a better option for you. Higher education worked out the best route for me, but it certainly isn’t for everyone.

And that’s a wrap! Does anyone here have a different experience with higher education here? Have any questions regarding higher education in Japan? Comment below and I can make a follow up post!